Tales of Old Japan


The doughty deeds and marvellous experiences of Funakoshi Jiuyémon are perhaps, like those of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, rather traditional than historical; but even if all or part of the deeds which popular belief ascribes to him be false, his story conveys a true picture of manners and customs. Above all, the manner of the vengeance which he wreaked upon the wife who had dishonoured him, and upon her lover, shows the high importance which the Japanese attach to the sanctity of the marriage tie.

The 50th and 51st chapters of the "Legacy of Iyéyasu," already quoted, say: "If a married woman of the agricultural, artisan, or commercial class shall secretly have intercourse with another man, it is not necessary for the husband to enter a complaint against the persons thus confusing the great relation of mankind, but he may put them both to death. Nevertheless, should he slay one of them and spare the other, his guilt is the same as that of the unrighteous persons.

"In the event, however, of advice being sought, the parties not having been slain, accede to the wishes of the complainant with, regard to putting them to death or not.

"Mankind, in whose bodies the male and female elements induce a natural desire towards the same object, do not look upon such practices with aversion; and the adjudication of such cases is a matter of special deliberation and consultation.

"Men and women of the military class are expected to know better than to occasion disturbance by violating existing regulations; and such an one breaking the regulations by lewd, trifling, or illicit intercourse shall at once be punished, without deliberation or consultation. It is not the same in this case as in that of agriculturists, artisans, and traders."

As a criminal offence, adultery was, according to the ancient laws of Japan, punished by crucifixion. In more modern times it has been punished by decapitation and the disgraceful exposure of the head after death; but if the murder of the injured husband accompany the crime of adultery, then the guilty parties are crucified to this day. At the present time the husband is no longer allowed to take the law into his own hands: he must report the matter to the Government, and trust to the State to avenge his honour.

Sacred as the marriage tie is so long as it lasts, the law which cuts it is curiously facile, or rather there is no law: a man may turn his wife out of doors, as it may suit his fancy. An example of this practice was shown in the story of "The Forty-seven Rônins." A husband has but to report the matter to his lord, and the ceremony of divorce is completed. Thus, in the days of the Shoguns' power, a Hatamoto who had divorced his wife reported the matter to the Shogun. A Daimio's retainer reports the matter to his Prince.

The facility of divorce, however, seems to be but rarely taken advantage of: this is probably owing to the practice of keeping concubines. It has often been asked, Are the Japanese polygamists? The answer is, Yes and no. They marry but one wife; but a man may, according to his station and means, have one or more concubines in addition. The Emperor has twelve concubines, called Kisaki; and Iyéyasu, alluding forcibly to excess in this respect as teterrima belli causa, laid down that the princes might have eight, high officers five, and ordinary Samurai two handmaids. "In the olden times," he writes, "the downfall of castles and the overthrow of kingdoms all proceeded from this alone. Why is not the indulgence of passions guarded against?"

The difference between the position of the wife and that of the concubine is marked. The legitimate wife is to the handmaid as a lord is to his vassal. Concubinage being a legitimate institution, the son of a handmaid is no bastard, nor is he in any way the child of shame; and yet, as a general rule, the son of the bondwoman is not heir with the son of the free, for the son of the wife inherits before the son of a concubine, even where the latter be the elder; and it frequently happens that a noble, having children by his concubines but none by his wife, selects a younger brother of his own, or even adopts the son of some relative, to succeed him in the family honours. The family line is considered to be thus more purely preserved. The law of succession is, however, extremely lax. Excellent personal merits will sometimes secure to the left-handed son the inheritance of his ancestors; and it often occurs that the son of a concubine, who is debarred from succeeding to his own father, is adopted as the heir of a relation or friend of even higher rank. When the wife of a noble has a daughter but no son, the practice is to adopt a youth of suitable family and age, who marries the girl and inherits as a son.

The principle of adoption is universal among all classes, from the Emperor down to his meanest subject; nor is the family line considered to have been broken because an adopted son has succeeded to the estates. Indeed, should a noble die without heir male, either begotten or adopted, his lands are forfeited to the State. It is a matter of care that the person adopted should be himself sprung from a stock of rank suited to that of the family into which he is to be received.

Sixteen and upwards being considered the marriageable age for a man, it is not usual for persons below that age to adopt an heir; yet an infant at the point of death may adopt a person older than himself, that the family line may not become extinct.

An account of the marriage ceremony will be found in the Appendix upon the subject.

In the olden time, in the island of Shikoku40 there lived one Funakoshi Jiuyémon, a brave Samurai and accomplished man, who was in great favour with the prince, his master. One day, at a drinking-bout, a quarrel sprung up between him and a brother-officer, which resulted in a duel upon the spot, in which Jiuyémon killed his adversary. When Jiuyémon awoke to a sense of what he had done, he was struck with remorse, and he thought to disembowel himself; but, receiving a private summons from his lord, he went to the castle, and the prince said to him—

"So it seems that you have been getting drunk and quarrelling, and that you have killed one of your friends; and now I suppose you will have determined to perform hara-kiri. It is a great pity, and in the face of the laws I can do nothing for you openly. Still, if you will escape and fly from this part of the country for a while, in two years' time the affair will have blown over, and I will allow you to return."

And with these words the prince presented him with a fine sword, made by Sukésada,41 and a hundred ounces of silver, and, having bade him farewell, entered his private apartments; and Jiuyémon, prostrating himself, wept tears of gratitude; then, taking the sword and the money, he went home and prepared to fly from the province, and secretly took leave of his relations, each of whom made him some parting present. These gifts, together with his own money, and what he had received from the prince, made up a sum of two hundred and fifty ounces of silver, with which and his Sukésada sword he escaped under cover of darkness, and went to a sea-port called Marugamé, in the province of Sanuki, where he proposed to wait for an opportunity of setting sail for Osaka. As ill luck would have it, the wind being contrary, he had to remain three days idle; but at last the wind changed; so he went down to the beach, thinking that he should certainly find a junk about to sail; and as he was looking about him, a sailor came up, and said—

"If your honour is minded to take a trip to Osaka, my ship is bound thither, and I should be glad to take you with me as passenger."

"That's exactly what I wanted. I will gladly take a passage," replied Jiuyémon, who was delighted at the chance.

"Well, then, we must set sail at once, so please come on board without delay."

So Jiuyémon went with him and embarked; and as they left the harbour and struck into the open sea, the moon was just rising above the eastern hills, illumining the dark night like a noonday sun; and Jiuyémon, taking his place in the bows of the ship, stood wrapt in contemplation of the beauty of the scene.


Now it happened that the captain of the ship, whose name was Akagôshi Kuroyémon, was a fierce pirate who, attracted by Jiuyémon's well-to-do appearance, had determined to decoy him on board, that he might murder and rob him; and while Jiuyémon was looking at the moon, the pirate and his companions were collected in the stern of the ship, taking counsel together in whispers as to how they might slay him. He, on the other hand, having for some time past fancied their conduct somewhat strange, bethought him that it was not prudent to lay aside his sword, so he went towards the place where he had been sitting, and had left his weapon lying, to fetch it, when he was stopped by three of the pirates, who blocked up the gangway, saying—

"Stop, Sir Samurai! Unluckily for you, this ship in which you have taken a passage belongs to the pirate Akagôshi Kuroyémon. Come, sir! whatever money you may chance to have about you is our prize."

When Jiuyémon heard this he was greatly startled at first, but soon recovered himself, and being an expert wrestler, kicked over two of the pirates, and made for his sword; but in the meanwhile Shichirohei, the younger brother of the pirate captain, had drawn the sword, and brought it towards him, saying—

"If you want your sword, here it is!" and with that he cut at him; but Jiuyémon avoided the blow, and closing with the ruffian, got back his sword. Ten of the pirates then attacked him with spear and sword; but he, putting his back against the bows of the ship, showed such good fight that he killed three of his assailants, and the others stood off, not daring to approach him. Then the pirate captain, Akagôshi Kuroyémon, who had been watching the fighting from the stern, seeing that his men stood no chance against Jiuyémon's dexterity, and that he was only losing them to no purpose, thought to shoot him with a matchlock. Even Jiuyémon, brave as he was, lost heart when he saw the captain's gun pointed at him, and tried to jump into the sea; but one of the pirates made a dash at him with a boat-hook, and caught him by the sleeve; then Jiuyémon, in despair, took the fine Sukésada sword which he had received from his prince, and throwing it at his captor, pierced him through the breast so that he fell dead, and himself plunging into the sea swam for his life. The pirate captain shot at him and missed him, and the rest of the crew made every endeavour to seize him with their boat-hooks, that they might avenge the death of their mates; but it was all in vain, and Jiuyémon, having shaken off his clothes that he might swim the better, made good his escape. So the pirates threw the bodies of their dead comrades into the sea, and the captain was partly consoled for their loss by the possession of the Sukésada sword with which one of them had been transfixed.

As soon as Jiuyémon jumped over the ship's side, being a good swimmer, he took a long dive, which carried him well out of danger, and struck out vigorously; and although he was tired and distressed by his exertions, he braced himself up to greater energy, and faced the waves boldly. At last, in the far distance, to his great joy, he spied a light, for which he made, and found that it was a ship carrying lanterns marked with the badge of the governor of Osaka; so he hailed her, saying—

"I have fallen into great trouble among pirates: pray rescue me."

"Who and what are you?" shouted an officer, some forty years of age.

"My name is Funakoshi Jiuyémon, and I have unwittingly fallen in with pirates this night. I have escaped so far: I pray you save me, lest I die."

"Hold on to this, and come up," replied the other, holding out the butt end of a spear to him, which he caught hold of and clambered up the ship's side. When the officer saw before him a handsome gentleman, naked all but his loincloth, and with his hair all in disorder, he called to his servants to bring some of his own clothes, and, having dressed him in them, said—

"What clan do you belong to, sir?"

"Sir, I am a Rônin, and was on my way to Osaka; but the sailors of the ship on which I had embarked were pirates;" and so he told the whole story of the fight and of his escape.

"Well done, sir!" replied the other, astonished at his prowess. "My name is Kajiki Tozayémon, at your service. I am an officer attached to the governor of Osaka. Pray, have you any friends in that city?"

"No, sir, I have no friends there; but as in two years I shall be able to return to my own country, and re-enter my lord's service, I thought during that time to engage in trade and live as a common wardsman."

"Indeed, that's a poor prospect! However, if you will allow me, I will do all that is in my power to assist you. Pray excuse the liberty I am taking in making such a proposal."

Jiuyémon warmly thanked Kajiki Tozayémon for his kindness; and so they reached Osaka without further adventures.

Jiuyémon, who had secreted in his girdle the two hundred and fifty ounces which he had brought with him from home, bought a small house, and started in trade as a vendor of perfumes, tooth-powder, combs, and other toilet articles; and Kajiki Tozayémon, who treated him with great kindness, and rendered him many services, prompted him, as he was a single man, to take to himself a wife. Acting upon this advice, he married a singing-girl, called O Hiyaku.42

Now this O Hiyaku, although at first she seemed very affectionately disposed towards Jiuyémon, had been, during the time that she was a singer, a woman of bad and profligate character; and at this time there was in Osaka a certain wrestler, named Takaségawa Kurobei, a very handsome man, with whom O Hiyaku fell desperately in love; so that at last, being by nature a passionate woman, she became unfaithful to Jiuyémon. The latter, little suspecting that anything was amiss, was in the habit of spending his evenings at the house of his patron Kajiki Tozayémon, whose son, a youth of eighteen, named Tônoshin, conceived a great friendship for Jiuyémon, and used constantly to invite him to play a game at checkers; and it was on these occasions that O Hiyaku, profiting by her husband's absence, used to arrange her meetings with the wrestler Takaségawa.

One evening, when Jiuyémon, as was his wont, had gone out to play at checkers with Kajiki Tônoshin, O Hiyaku took advantage of the occasion to go and fetch the wrestler, and invite him to a little feast; and as they were enjoying themselves over their wine, O Hiyaku said to him—

"Ah! Master Takaségawa, how wonderfully chance favours us! and how pleasant these stolen interviews are! How much nicer still it would be if we could only be married. But, as long as Jiuyémon is in the way, it is impossible; and that is my one cause of distress."

"It's no use being in such a hurry. If you only have patience, we shall be able to marry, sure enough. What you have got to look out for now is, that Jiuyémon does not find out what we are about. I suppose there is no chance of his coming home to-night, is there?"

"Oh dear, no! You need not be afraid. He is gone to Kajiki's house to play checkers; so he is sure to spend the night there."

And so the guilty couple went on gossiping, with their minds at ease, until at last they dropped off asleep.

In the meanwhile Jiuyémon, in the middle of his game at checkers, was seized with a sudden pain in his stomach, and said to Kajiki Tônoshin, "Young sir, I feel an unaccountable pain in my stomach. I think I had better go home, before it gets worse."

"That is a bad job. Wait a little, and I will give you some physic; but, at any rate, you had better spend the night here."

"Many thanks for your kindness," replied Jiuyémon; "but I had rather go home."

So he took his leave, and went off to his own house, bearing the pain as best he might. When he arrived in front of his own door, he tried to open it; but the lock was fastened, and he could not get in, so he rapped violently at the shutters to try and awaken his wife. When O Hiyaku heard the noise, she woke with a start, and roused the wrestler, saying to him in a whisper—

"Get up! get up! Jiuyémon has come back. You must hide as fast as possible."

"Oh dear! oh dear!" said the wrestler, in a great fright; "here's a pretty mess! Where on earth shall I hide myself?" and he stumbled about in every direction looking for a hiding-place, but found none.

Jiuyémon, seeing that his wife did not come to open the door, got impatient at last, and forced it open by unfixing the sliding shutter and, entering the house, found himself face to face with his wife and her lover, who were both in such confusion that they did not know what to do. Jiuyémon, however, took no notice of them, but lit his pipe and sat smoking and watching them in silence. At last the wrestler, Takaségawa, broke the silence by saying—

"I thought, sir, that I should be sure to have the pleasure of finding you at home this evening, so I came out to call upon you. When I got here, the Lady O Hiyaku was so kind as to offer me some wine; and I drank a little more than was good for me, so that it got into my head, and I fell asleep. I must really apologize for having taken such a liberty in your absence; but, indeed, although appearances are against us, there has been nothing wrong."

"Certainly," said O Hiyaku, coming to her lover's support, "Master Takaségawa is not at all to blame. It was I who invited him to drink wine; so I hope you will excuse him."

Jiuyémon sat pondering the matter over in his mind for a moment, and then said to the wrestler, "You say that you are innocent; but, of course, that is a lie. It's no use trying to conceal your fault. However, next year I shall, in all probability, return to my own country, and then you may take O Hiyaku and do what you will with her: far be it from me to care what becomes of a woman with such a stinking heart."

When the wrestler and O Hiyaku heard Jiuyémon say this quite quietly, they could not speak, but held their peace for very shame.

"Here, you Takaségawa," pursued he; "you may stop here to-night, if you like it, and go home to-morrow."

"Thank you, sir," replied the wrestler, "I am much obliged to you; but the fact is, that I have some pressing business in another part of the town, so, with your permission, I will take my leave;" and so he went out, covered with confusion.

As for the faithless wife, O Hiyaku, she was in great agitation, expecting to be severely reprimanded at least; but Jiuyémon took no notice of her, and showed no anger; only from that day forth, although she remained in his house as his wife, he separated himself from her entirely.

Matters went on in this way for some time, until at last, one fine day, O Hiyaku, looking out of doors, saw the wrestler Takaségawa passing in the street, so she called out to him—

"Dear me, Master Takaségawa, can that be you! What a long time it is since we have met! Pray come in, and have a chat."

"Thank you, I am much obliged to you; but as I do not like the sort of scene we had the other day, I think I had rather not accept your invitation."

"Pray do not talk in such a cowardly manner. Next year, when Jiuyémon goes back to his own country, he is sure to give me this house, and then you and I can marry and live as happily as possible."

"I don't like being in too great a hurry to accept fair offers."43

"Nonsense! There's no need for showing such delicacy about accepting what is given you."

And as she spoke, she caught the wrestler by the hand and led him into the house. After they had talked together for some time, she said:—

"Listen to me, Master Takaségawa. I have been thinking over all this for some time, and I see no help for it but to kill Jiuyémon and make an end of him."

"What do you want to do that for?"

"As long as he is alive, we cannot be married. What I propose is that you should buy some poison, and I will put it secretly into his food. When he is dead, we can be happy to our hearts' content."

At first Takaségawa was startled and bewildered by the audacity of their scheme; but forgetting the gratitude which he owed to Jiuyémon for sparing his life on the previous occasion, he replied:—

"Well, I think it can be managed. I have a friend who is a physician, so I will get him to compound some poison for me, and will send it to you. You must look out for a moment when your husband is not on his guard, and get him to take it."

Having agreed upon this, Takaségawa went away, and, having employed a physician to make up the poison, sent it to O Hiyaku in a letter, suggesting that the poison should be mixed up with a sort of macaroni, of which Jiuyémon was very fond. Having read the letter, she put it carefully away in a drawer of her cupboard, and waited until Jiuyémon should express a wish to eat some macaroni.

One day, towards the time of the New Year, when O Hiyaku had gone out to a party with a few of her friends, it happened that Jiuyémon, being alone in the house, was in want of some little thing, and, failing to find it anywhere, at last bethought himself to look for it in O Hiyaku's cupboard; and as he was searching amongst the odds and ends which it contained, he came upon the fatal letter. When he read the scheme for putting poison in his macaroni, he was taken aback, and said to himself, "When I caught those two beasts in their wickedness I spared them, because their blood would have defiled my sword; and now they are not even grateful for my mercy. Their crime is beyond all power of language to express, and I will kill them together."

So he put back the letter in its place, and waited for his wife to come home. So soon as she made her appearance he said—

"You have come home early, O Hiyaku. I feel very dull and lonely this evening; let us have a little wine."

And as he spoke without any semblance of anger, it never entered O Hiyaku's mind that he had seen the letter; so she went about her household duties with a quiet mind.

The following evening, as Jiuyémon was sitting in his shop casting up his accounts, with his counting-board44 in his hand, Takaségawa passed by, and Jiuyémon called out to him, saying:—

"Well met, Takaségawa! I was just thinking of drinking a cup of wine to-night; but I have no one to keep me company, and it is dull work drinking alone. Pray come in, and drink a bout with me."

"Thank you, sir, I shall have much pleasure," replied the wrestler, who little expected what the other was aiming at; and so he went in, and they began to drink and feast.

"It's very cold to-night," said Jiuyémon, after a while; "suppose we warm up a little macaroni, and eat it nice and hot. Perhaps, however, you do not like it?"

"Indeed, I am very fond of it, on the contrary."

"That is well. O Hiyaku, please go and buy a little for us."

"Directly," replied his wife, who hurried off to buy the paste, delighted at the opportunity for carrying out her murderous design upon her husband. As soon she had prepared it, she poured it into bowls and set it before the two men; but into her husband's bowl only she put poison. Jiuyémon, who well knew what she had done, did not eat the mess at once, but remained talking about this, that, and the other; and the wrestler, out of politeness, was obliged to wait also. All of a sudden, Jiuyémon cried out—

"Dear me! whilst we have been gossiping, the macaroni has been getting cold. Let us put it all together and warm it up again. As no one has put his lips to his bowl yet, it will all be clean; so none need be wasted." And with these words he took the macaroni that was in the three bowls, and, pouring it altogether into an iron pot, boiled it up again. This time Jiuyémon served out the food himself, and, setting it before his wife and the wrestler, said—

"There! make haste and eat it up before it gets cold."

Jiuyémon, of course, did not eat any of the mess; and the would-be murderers, knowing that sufficient poison had been originally put into Jiuyémon's bowl to kill them all three, and that now the macaroni, having been well mixed up, would all be poisoned, were quite taken aback, and did not know what to do.

"Come! make haste, or it will be quite cold. You said you liked it, so I sent to buy it on purpose. O Hiyaku! come and make a hearty meal. I will eat some presently."

At this the pair looked very foolish, and knew not what to answer; at last the wrestler got up and said—

"I do not feel quite well. I must beg to take my leave; and, if you will allow me, I will come and accept your hospitality to-morrow instead."

"Dear me! I am sorry to hear you are not well. However, O Hiyaku, there will be all the more macaroni for you."

As for O Hiyaku, she put a bold face upon the matter, and replied that she had supped already, and had no appetite for any more.

Then Jiuyémon, looking at them both with a scornful smile, said—

"It seems that you, neither of you, care to eat this macaroni; however, as you, Takaségawa, are unwell, I will give you some excellent medicine;" and going to the cupboard, he drew out the letter, and laid it before the wrestler. When O Hiyaku and the wrestler saw that their wicked schemes had been brought to light, they were struck dumb with shame.

Takaségawa, seeing that denial was useless, drew his dirk and cut at Jiuyémon; but he, being nimble and quick, dived under the wrestler's arm, and seizing his right hand from behind, tightened his grasp upon it until it became numbed, and the dirk fell to the ground; for, powerful man as the wrestler was, he was no match for Jiuyémon, who held him in so fast a grip that he could not move. Then Jiuyémon took the dirk which had fallen to the ground, and said:—

"Oh! I thought that you, being a wrestler, would at least be a strong man, and that there would be some pleasure in fighting you; but I see that you are but a poor feckless creature, after all. It would have defiled my sword to have killed such an ungrateful hound with it; but luckily here is your own dirk, and I will slay you with that."

Takaségawa struggled to escape, but in vain; and O Hiyaku, seizing a large kitchen knife, attacked Jiuyémon; but he, furious, kicked her in the loins so violently that she fell powerless, then brandishing the dirk, he cleft the wrestler from the shoulder down to the nipple of his breast, and the big man fell in his agony. O Hiyaku, seeing this, tried to fly; but Jiuyémon, seizing her by the hair of the head, stabbed her in the bosom, and, placing her by her lover's side, gave her the death-blow.


On the following day, he sent in a report of what he had done to the governor of Osaka, and buried the corpses; and from that time forth he remained a single man, and pursued his trade as a seller of perfumery and such-like wares; and his leisure hours he continued to spend as before, at the house of his patron, Kajiki Tozayémon.

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